A Toast to Kate DiCamillo by Kirsten LeClerc
“I’m only eating toast today. Toast with a great deal of butter on it,” declared my daughter. She was six years old at the time and a Mercy Watson superfan. I humored her at breakfast, and she snacked on buttered toast for the next couple of days. Need I tell you how that turned out? Not well. It seems that the Mercy Watson diet can cause quite a tummy ache.
While I don’t advise binging on buttered toast, I do recommend these books to kids all the time. They’re funny and sweet, and a perfect series for students transitioning to chapter books. I point them out to kindergarteners who want to leave the picture book section behind, and to parents who try to rush their children into doing so. I also love this series, along with the Bink & Gollie books, for struggling readers who long to read the kind of books their peers are reading.
I happened upon this review of Bink & Gollie on Amazon. The reviewer declares it “Not a chapter book”.
I give 5 stars, though, to these picture books in chapter book clothing. It is precisely the cute and funny writing, along with the “not many words per page”, that makes them so special.
This past winter, my daughter came home from school one day and launched into a description of the new read-aloud her teacher had begun in class. “It’s about a girl who finds a dog in the grocery store and she takes him home and names him Winn-Dixie because that’s what the store was called and it’s a really, really good book.”
“Oh, that is a good one,” I replied. “Did you know that the author is Kate DiCamillo, the same person who wrote the Mercy Watson books?”
Her eyes widened for a moment while she thought about that, and then she said “Wow, she’s a really great writer.”
That she is. Whether realistic fiction or fantasy, her novels are superb.
About five years ago, I made a discovery: I like to write. Naively, I thought for sure my first manuscript would be snatched up early on in the querying process. After racking up a number of ‘No’ responses, though, I learned that getting published is neither easy or quick. (I also realized that my first manuscript is what literary agent Jennifer Laughran refers to as the first pancake; complete, but kind of weird and rough around the edges.) I put it away and started working on a second project, and then a third.
It is common to hear stories about authors experiencing rejection before finding publication. I went to a writers conference once where a speaker told of one famous author being rejected seventeen times, and another twenty-five. I found nothing encouraging about those numbers. The most inspiring tale of turndowns I’ve heard comes from Kate Dicamillo, who has said that she received 450 rejection letters before her first book was accepted for publication. Four hundred and fifty! To an aspiring author who is on her 100th ‘no’, this gives me hope.
So, cheers to you, Kate DiCamillo! Thank you for writing chapter books that are not-chapter-books, and for the amazing middle grade novels. Thank you for sharing your gift of storytelling through moving realistic fiction like Because Of Winn-Dixie and Raymie Nightingale. Thank you for creating magical tales that stretch the imagination, like The Tale of Desperaux and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. You’ve made it in the world of children’s literature. You’ve won a number of awards, including the elusive Newbery. Rejection is now far behind you, but thank you for talking about it anyway, for inspiring both children and aspiring authors to persist.
Thank you for delighting so many children and adults with your writing. I look forward to reading your next book.
Kirsten LeClerc is a teacher-librarian in Asheville, NC. She is on Twitter @kirleclerc and blogs occasionally at http://bookswithcharacter.blogspot.com.